Felon Voting Right Amendment Takes First Step Towards Reality

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DES MOINES, Iowa  --  The long road to becoming a constitutional amendment began with a single vote at the Iowa State Capitol on Thursday.

The State Government subcommittee in the Iowa House gave initial approval to House Study Bill 68, a resolution calling for a change to Iowa's constitution to define how voting rights are returned to convicted felons.

Under current Iowa law felons must appeal directly to the governor to have his or her voting rights restored once he or she is released from prison.  Felons formerly had their rights automatically restored upon their release under an Executive Order signed by Governor Tom Vilsack and honored by his successor, Chet Culver.  When Terry Branstad was re-elected one of his first actions was undoing that executive order and putting the current application process in place.

Governor Kim Reynolds says she doesn't agree with the current policy, but won't use an Executive Order to change the laws again.  Instead she says voters must make the decision.  The earliest that process could be complete is in 2022.

On Thursday more than a dozen varied groups filed their support for the constitutional amendment.

"Once a person has done what is needed to do to discharge their sentence we absolutely support that they step back out into sociaety as a full citizen," Betty Andrews, President of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP said told lawmakers before they unanimously approved the bill.

There was one group that offered a slight disapproval of the bill.  Carl Schilling with the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance says the bill doesn't require that a released felon pay all their court-ordered restitution before getting their voting rights back.  He says that isn't fair to victims.

"If we do do the bill as its written lets also keep in mind we need to do something for the victims who need also to be restored," Schilling said.  Schilling said one solution to that issue is increased state funding for victim assistance programs.

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